The West Indies (Secretary of State's Tour)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 21st June 1960.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Iain Macleod Mr Iain Macleod , Enfield West 12:00 am, 21st June 1960

With permission, Mr. Speaker, I will now reply to Question No. 16.

I have just returned from a most interesting and rewarding tour to the West Indies in the course of which I visited Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados and had discussions with the Governor-General and the Governors, Federal Ministers and Ministers of all the unit territories as well as many other representative groups and individuals. I also had, at the end of my visit, the unique opportunity and privilege of taking part in a meeting at the Federal capital, under the Governor-General's chairmanship, of the Prime Minister of the Federation the three Premiers of Jamaica, Trinidad and Barbados and the Chief Ministers of the other islands, at which a most valuable exchange of views took place.

On the question of the future of the Federation, I made it clear that the shape of the Federation and pace at which it should advance to independence were essentially matters for the West Indians to settle but that Her Majesty's Government remained convinced that Federation offered the best solution for the problems of this area and that, as soon as West Indians had made up their minds on these questions and provided that the essential attributes of sovereignty were satisfied Her Majesty's Government would be ready and anxious to help them achieve independence at the earliest possible date and would indeed be proud to sponsor for full membership of the Commonwealth a country which, I am convinced, has much to teach the world, not least the way in which the people of many varying racial origins can live together in friendship and co-operation.

While in Trinidad I resumed constitutional discussions which had been started last autumn and had many discussions with representatives of the Trinidad Government, the Opposition party and other representative bodies such as the Chamber of Commerce and the T.U.C. In the result, all matters left outstanding from the London talks were settled and a full statement of recommendations for a revision of the constitution based on the principle of full internal self-government for Trinidad and Tobago, and commanding, I believe, a very wide measure of support and agreement in the territory, will be presented to Parliament and to the House of Representatives as a White Paper. Meanwhile, a summary of the main proposals has been published.

A further question which was discussed with Federal and other Ministers affected was the proposal that there should be talks with the United States Government for a revision of 1941 Leased Bases Agreement. Agreement was reached as to proposals which might be made for the consideration of the United States Government in this connection and as to the form which West Indian representation might take.

Full agreement was reached in my discussions with the Federal Government on the introduction of a Cabinet system of government for the Federation.

A variety of other questions was discussed during my visit and I am happy to report that discussions on all these matters revealed a wide identity of views between myself and West Indian Ministers.

I could not conclude without voicing my very deep gratitude for the many kindnesses which I received from all sections of the population in this most hospitable quarter of the Commonwealth.

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

Is the Minister aware that we very warmly welcome the degree of agreement that he has achieved? Will he allow us on this side of the House to express our sympathy in connection with the accident suffered by his wife at the beginning of the trip and to convey to her our good wishes for a speedy recovery?

Is the Minister aware that we share his hopes about the future of the Federation, but that the rather polite note of his statement conceals the fact that the future of federation in the West Indies is drifting into a state of considerable crisis? May we know what form future consultations will take between Her Majesty's Government, the Federal Government and other West Indian Governments in reaching agreement on this question?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware from his trip, as I was from my recent trip, that lack of clarity about the Government's intentions beyond independence is one of the difficulties on this issue? Finally, will he say when the meeting on the Chaguramas base is likely to take place?

Photo of Mr Iain Macleod Mr Iain Macleod , Enfield West

I am grateful for the hon. Member's introductory remarks.

As to the future of federation, recent events in Jamaica, strangely enough, have considerably polarised the parties there in a way which should clarify the issues. It would be difficult to prophesy what may happen when a referendum takes place—it may be several months ahead—but I would have no doubt of the result if it were to take place at present.

I entirely agree with what the hon. Member has said in general about his visit to the West Indies. The timetable I envisage is that the Governments should come together again for what, I hope, will be conclusive inter-governmental talks not later than the late autumn. After that, possibly with the Jamaican referendum intervening, we might proceed to a constitutional conference, the last great stage before independence.

The discussions on Chaguramas were largely procedural and we are now putting the proposition to the United States Government as to how and when those talks might take place. We have suggested that they should be as soon as possible.

Photo of Mr Roland Robinson Mr Roland Robinson , Blackpool South

I am sure that all my hon. Friends wish to associate themselves with the kindly remarks of the hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) about the wife of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. We feel she has shown very great courage in a difficult situation.

I wonder whether my right hon. Friend could tell us whether, in the course of the conversations, further discussions took place about the possible future of British Guiana in the Federation?

Photo of Mr Iain Macleod Mr Iain Macleod , Enfield West

No, Sir. The Question of British Guiana came only incidentally into the conversation and we had no discussion on that.

Photo of Mr William Blyton Mr William Blyton , Houghton-le-Spring

Could the right hon. Gentleman say whether, during the discussions, the question of inadequacy of the allowance of revenue to the Federal Parliament was raised? Will it be increased over and above what is mentioned in the agreement, because there is great concern in the Federal Parliament about the amount that it is to be allowed to raise by taxes?

Could the right hon. Gentleman also say whether it is not possible to get Jamaica further into the Federation by applying a Customs union over a period of years, instead of at one fell swoop, as seems to be contemplated, and which would lead to a serious position in Jamaica?

Photo of Mr Iain Macleod Mr Iain Macleod , Enfield West

There is general recognition that the initial arrangements for the central financing of the Federation were quite inadequate. I think that agreement will be reached on that matter at the inter-governmental conference.

The second matter is, again, one on which differing points of view are held by Jamaica, on the one side, and Trinidad, on the other, but I think that it may be that those points of view can be reconciled. If so, there would be a successful outcome to the inter-governmental conference.

Photo of Mr Frederic Bennett Mr Frederic Bennett , Torquay

If the Jamaican movement should go decisively against federation, which we all hope it will not, does my right hon. Friend think that there is any prospect at all for any alternative of a second-best, smaller, grouping centred around Trinidad in case the main idea did not work as we hope it will work?

Photo of Mr Iain Macleod Mr Iain Macleod , Enfield West

No, Sir. I do not intend to contemplate failure in that respect.

Photo of Mr Tom Driberg Mr Tom Driberg , Barking

Could the right hon. Gentleman clarify one phrase in his statement which sounded like a qualifying clause, although it might not have been? That was the phrase about "full attributes of sovereignty".

Photo of Mr Iain Macleod Mr Iain Macleod , Enfield West

That goes back to discussions I had with Mr. Manley and the deputation from Jamaica which came here earlier this year, when Jamaica was particularly concerned. As the hon. Member knows, Jamaica has advocated a very loose kind of federation, almost a confederation, and the members of the deputation were concerned to find out from Her Majesty's Government what we considered would be the minimum attributes of sovereignty. I answered that question and, if the hon. Member wishes, I can send a copy of the reply I gave, which follows what I have said today.

Photo of Mr George Thomson Mr George Thomson , Dundee East

The Minister did not answer the point I made about economic assistance after independence. He will be aware that this particularly affects the smaller territories in the Federation. Would he attempt to clarify this question now?

Photo of Mr Iain Macleod Mr Iain Macleod , Enfield West

Only in outline. I tried at my Press conference to explain that, although the form of aid one is able to give inevitably changed because a Colony was no longer a Colony and was not eligible for help under the Commonwealth Development Corporation, yet it would still be possible, under the Commonwealth assistance loans and by other methods, to give help. There probably could be a carry-over of help given under the 1956 Act. These details of financial help on independence can be settled only at the independence conference itself.

Mr. Slater:

Could the Minister say how far his thoughts have been directed to some form of association of British Guiana with the Federation? Even when the elections have taken place, the leaders of the respective parties say they would advocate a separate form of election to carry out any form of association with the Federation. What has taken place between his Departmentt and the principal figures in Guiana in regard to this form of operation?

Photo of Mr Iain Macleod Mr Iain Macleod , Enfield West

In reply to one of my hon. Friends, I said that I had had no discussions on the question of British Guiana and the Federation. The position of British Guiana and British Honduras remains that if those peoples expressed a wish to join the Federation and the Federation were willing that it should be so, there would certainly be no objection by Her Majesty's Government.